"Kind of," she said.

He walked over to the wall, pulling off a stick for her. "Yeah, right," he said. "You say that, and then you'll beat me in ten seconds."

"She does have that pool-shark look to her," Nick said. Emily laughed, shaking her head. "It's always the quiet ones."

"Just go easy on me," Michael said to her. "That's all I ask."

By the time I came out of the bathroom two minutes later, Emily was holding her own. She was also in full-on flirt mode with Michael, who seemed more than happy to reciprocate. Which left me with Nick, who sat down beside me on the nearby couch and announced he had something to say.

"You know," he said as he took a sip of his beer, "since school is over now and all, I just think you should know that I'm aware of how you feel about me."

"How I feel about you," I repeated.

"Dude," Michael called out from the right corner pocket. "Stop before you say something you regret."

"Shhh," Nick told him, waving his arm. He turned back to me. "Annabel," he said, his voice serious, "it's okay that you have a crush on me."

"Oh, God," Michael groaned. "I'm so embarrassed for you right now."

"I mean, it makes sense," Nick said, slurring slightly as I


tried not to smile. "I'm a senior. An older man. It makes sense you'd look up to me. But…" Here he paused, taking another swig of his beer. "It's not going to work out."

"Oh," I said. "Well. It's better to know now, I guess."

Nick patted my hand, nodding. "I'm really flattered, but it doesn't matter how much you love me. I just don't feel that way about you."

"Like hell," Michael said, and Emily laughed.

"I understand," I told Nick.

"You do?"


He was still patting my hand, although, at this point, I was not sure he was aware of it. "Good. Because I'd really like, if you can get past your feelings, for us to remain friends."

"Me, too," I said.

Nick sat back, tipping his bottle to his mouth. Then he brought it back down, turning it up. One drop fell out. "Empty," he announced. "I need another."

"You really don't," Michael said, then winced as Emily shot the cue ball, knocking two of his stripes into a pocket.

"How about a water?" I asked Nick. "I was just about to get one for myself."

"A water," he repeated slowly, as if this was a foreign concept. "Okay. Lead the way."

"We'll be back," I said to Emily as I got to my feet, Nick then doing the same with considerably more trouble. "You need anything?"

She shook her head, bending down for another shot. "I'm good," she said.

"Too good," Michael said as two more of his balls disappeared. "'Kind of play, my ass."

Nick and I only made it about halfway down the hallway before he announced he'd changed his mind. "Too tired," he said, plopping down next to a bedroom door. "Need to rest."

"Are you okay?" I asked him.

"Dandy," he replied. "You just go get that, that…"

"Water," I said.

"Water… and I'll meet you right here. 'Kay?" He sat back, his head bonking the wall. "Right here."

I nodded, then continued on to the stairs. On the way, I stopped to look down at the living room below, which was now considerably more crowded. Sophie was gone from the couch, as was Will, which I figured was either a good sign or a really bad one.

Downstairs, I located two bottled waters, then stopped to talk to a few people. When I got back to the hallway, Nick wasn't there. I figured he'd headed back to the game room. I was just about to do the same when I heard a voice.


It was soft and faint. I turned. There was a bedroom to my right, the door slightly ajar. Handy if you were stumbling or, even worse, puking. Poor Nick, I thought. I stuck one water in my back pocket, opened the other one, then pushed the door open and stepped inside.

"Hey," I said. "Did you get lost?"

As I stepped over the threshold into the dark, I had my first prickling sense that something wasn't right. It was just how the room felt, like the entire space around me was unsettled. I

stepped back, reaching for the knob, but I couldn't find it, my fingers only touching wall. "Nick?" I said.

Then, suddenly, I felt something bump up against my left side. Not furniture, or an object, but something alive. Someone. It's Nick, I told myself. He's drunk. But at the same time I started moving my hand behind me, faster now, searching for the light switch or doorknob. Finally, I felt the knob. Just as I was twisting it, though, I felt fingers closing over my wrist.

"Hey," I said, and even though I was trying to act casual, my voice sounded scared. "What's—?"

"Shhh, Annabel," a voice said, and then the fingers were moving up my arm, over my skin, and I felt another hand on my right shoulder. "It's just me."

It wasn't Nick. This voice was deeper, and not slurring at all, each syllable enunciated perfectly. As I realized this, I panicked, my hand gripping tighter around the water bottle in my hand.The top popped off, and suddenly I felt cold seeping into my shirt, onto my skin. "Don't," I said.

"Shhh," the voice said again, and then the hands were off me. A second later, they covered my eyes.

I jerked forward, trying to pull away. The water bottle, now half empty, fell from my hands, hitting the carpet with a dull thud, and his hands grabbed me by my shoulders, hard. I kept wriggling, trying to get loose and turn around, toward the door, but my hands were flailing in empty air. It was like the walls had slid back, out of reach; there was nothing to hold on to.

I could hear myself gasping, my breath beginning to sputter as he locked an elbow around my neck, pulling me up against him. My legs came up off the ground and I started kicking them, making contact with the door once—bang!—before he dragged me backwards a couple of steps. Then his other hand was moving around to my stomach, pushing aside my shirt, and thrusting down my jeans.

"Stop it," I said, but then his arm—warm, and smelling of sweat—was covering my mouth, blocking the sound. His fingers were sharp as he pushed aside my underwear, going deeper and deeper, his breath now hard little bursts in my ear. I was still trying to get away, squirming, even as his fingers probed farther, and then he was inside me.